"Has anybody seen my pants?"
These words emanated from the cracked lips of the bum. Edguy Dithers didn't know what quite to make of it since the bum appeared to be wearing pants - sort of. More like two burlap sacks stabled together, tucked into his makeshift newspaper shoes. All stinking of urine and the soup kitchen.
"Does the fish touch me from Tuesday?" the bum added, eyes glassy and unfocused.
Dithers assumed he was drunk and nervously handed him some pocket change, hoping it wouldn't be mistaken for a sign of aggression. Bums were unpredictable, so Dithers had learned from third-party hearsay about this homeless guy who totally pulled a gun once. Honest. Dithers didn't question such stories as he supposed any right-thinking person could see bums were just plain evil - lazy and refusing to work and getting their own mental institutes closed so they could be thrown out into the street to subsist on dog food and die of the common cold.
Surely they meant to do all that. If not, then why did they do it?
Dithers wasn't a bum of course - as he insisted to himself on numerous occasions - but a productive man, a man who did The Right Thing when it was convenient. A man who was late returning to the office after one-too-many beers during his lunch break.
Ah, the office! How Dithers loved it! How desperately he told himself he loved it as the years went by and the constant sitting rewarding him with chronic back pain and an ever-expanding gut.
Dithers turned his attention to his surroundings to put away such niggling, unpleasant thoughts. He supposed the cloudy sky overhead resembled some great painting or another - mostly because he'd never really bothered to learn about any great paintings but just assumed they were all similarly dull splashes of blues, grays, browns -
Brown? What sort of toxic smog produces a brown sky?
Anyway, Dithers walked under the toxicly painted sky, through the municipally maintained streets to the huge, arching home office of Braggart Big Damn Rail. He'd been an employee of the Braggarts since childhood, rented out from his lazy maid of a mother who only worked eighty hours a week as a playmate - or really plaything - of the Braggart children Tim and Daffy. Sweet, sweet Daffy...
Dithers had enjoyed a happy childhood - he was sure, somewhere between the beatings and tauntings and being forcibly dressed in a diaper on his thirteenth birthday - and he knew he had Daffy to thank for it all. He remembered how even as children she knew what was best for him -
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" she asked one day while they played with Daffy's unbelievably expensive, imported Lego's.
"I don't know," Dithers had replied. "Something great!"
"But daddy didn't hire you to be great!"
He certainly had not and that stunning insight from the young Daffy had greatly affected the young Dithers. Now, some twenty years later he served his proper role, a glorified secretary for the Braggart children running errands and stirring coffee and always collecting the reports from industrious underlings so that he might receive credit when presenting them to the wonderful, beautiful, brilliant Daffy!
Who unfortunately was nowhere to be seen. Dithers had to resort to going to meet her brother this day, the less impressive Tim Braggart - a wiry, humble man who made a big fuss about paying Dithers "a proper salary with benefits." Dithers felt funny about this of course, though not enough to refuse.
As Dithers entered the office, Tim greeted him with a smile, "Ed! So good to see you!" He rose from behind his desk and strode forward to shake Edguy's hand. "What's the news on the Rio Norte?"
"Uhh..." Dithers had to fish in his briefcase. Rio Norte - Braggart Big Damn Rail's latest contract - had just been approved and they were still in the process of assessing the quality of the track, the upkeep of the engines and - what Tim always seemed most concerned about - the pay and benefits for the many conductors and engineers carried over from the previous owner. Tim Braggart was always heard to say, "Fair wages are what make our trains run on time!" - which they really did. Even at the lowest point of the recent economic downturn, Braggart Big Damn Rail had continued to boom thanks to its well compensated and therefore amicable and committed workforce.
Dithers didn't quit understand why. He knew it wasn't something Daffy would support - spending money on something other than herself. Sweet Daffy, her hair as soft as baby asses, her eyes as bright as Hiroshima, her boobs as -
"Oh this is no good," Tim was saying as he flipped through the documents brought by Dithers. "Not good at all. How could Rio Norte have kept operating so long like this?"
"Well, uh, crashes happen," Dithers said.
"Ed, the last company had a crash on this line every day! And they never thought to improve track maintenance?"
"Well, it is expensive isn't it?"
"So are funerals, Ed. So are bereaved loved ones clamoring, and rightly so, for reparations." Tim returned to his desk, not as cheery as when Dithers had entered but hardly in the depths of depression just yet. "This was a real stinker of a deal but it's ours now. Best make the most of it..." He continued to read through the Rio Norte report, brow furrowed in concentration. "Ed," he said after some time, "I'm not seeing much in terms of current manpower."
Dithers nodded, "That's true, the previous owners tried downsizing to keep Rio Norte profitable."
"Jesus Christ, no wonder," Tim muttered. "You can't run a rail without people! Can you imagine where Braggart would be if it was just you and me, Ed?"
Thrilled at the chance to speak her name, "Well, Daffy too."
Tim chuckled. "Oh god, that would be a nightmare! Don't you remember that one Christmas when she got a model train? I'm still not sure how she got it up onto the roof. And on fire!"
Dithers didn't say anything. Oh, he wanted to - how he wanted to say to Tim, "No! You're wrong!" for disparaging the beloved Daffy with simple facts - but Dithers couldn't quite ever bring himself to disagree with someone in a suit and possessing lots of money. It made going to the bank awfully confusing.
"Now what's with these optimistic price estimates?" Tim asked, looking up again at Dithers.
"Well, I assume we can get the new track through Rearend Metals," Dithers explained. "And that super-brilliant guy Enis Buyit has so much oil in those mountains -"
Time held up a hand to quiet Dithers. "I'm familiar with Buyit's little surge. Sorry for the pun but I just don't 'buy it' - those fields were tapped out when I was in grade school and now he just magically finds more oil?"
Leaping to defend the rich guy he'd never met personally, Dithers protested, "He's really smart and stuff! He's clearly discovered some way of extracting more and more oil."
"That's not how it works, Ed," Tim explained patiently. "Oil is finite. I'll give Buyit the benefit of the doubt - that he stumbled on a vein that nobody's tapped in North America for over a century - but how much could he really have? Oil is finite - what happens when he runs out? In business you have to think long-term, Ed. You can't just hop on the latest bandwagon and hope for the best."
Dithers sulked - he'd worked up a great vision of a new Oil Boomtown sprouting out there somewhere. Wells drying up all over the world but in Enis Buyit's little fiefdom the crude continued to flow, compelled by Buyit's intrinsic awesomeness.
Then Tim had to ruin the fantasy with facts. "I guess you're right," mumbled Dithers.
"Oh, don't look so glum!" Tim said. "We're shifting our engines to lithium-electric anyway, cheaper in the long run and cleaner too. No more brown skies."
Dithers just nodded. He'd think up some comeback to Tim's lecturing later, something stirring and Great that would put Tim Braggart in his place about the awesome Enis Buyit or how Daffy could run every train herself with just her amazing rack. He never could think of these things on the spot though, he suspected because he wasn't really all that Great. Not Great like Daffy.
"So what do you intend to do with the Rio Norte?" Dithers asked once it appeared Tim had finished leafing through the report.
"Well, we need to fix it up and re-staff it. Keep the current crew, naturally, but they're not nearly enough to keep an operation this big running. Could be a good year before we start seeing a return on this!"
"But that's so long!"
"But it'll happen, Ed. Rails run more people and merchandise everyday and Rio Norte's got the longest route on the map. Besides, we're staying afloat with all our other interests."
"It just feels like we shouldn't waste time is all."
"Waste time?" Tim chuckled, "Oh Ed! Don't ever lose that adolescent eagerness!"
"But your sister -"
"My sister," said Tim firmly, "is not the sharpest spoon in the pudding. You'd do well to remember that Ed."
Shocked at Tim Braggart's tone - and a little confused at his word choice - Dithers could only stand there for a moment of awkward silence. Then, with a stiff bow, he left the office. Back out in the lobby, he passed the few other employees who hung around late into the evening.
One of the oldest, Mop Darper, sat clacking away at his old desktop computer. "Hey Eddie," he called as Dithers passed. "Know anywhere I can get some good woolen undershirts?"
"How should I know!? Google it yourself!" Dithers snapped.
"I'm just askin', man. Jesus..." and Mop went back to his work.
Edguy Dithers continued outside, out into the great courtyard of Braggart Big Ass Rail. There used to be a tree here - which he really should have remembered when he came in earlier - but Daffy had it cut down for "bespoiling the natural beauty of the buildings."
Oh Daffy. What he wouldn't give for her wise words and tight ass right now...
She lay prettily across the spacious train seat, leg propped prettily up on the armrest in such a pretty way. Pretty stockings wrapped her pretty legs, ending in pretty feet prettily fitted into pretty pumps she bought at the same time as the shockingly not pretty camel-skin coat - surprised by that, aren't you? Ha-ha, range and depth!
Anyway, not to belabor the point but this pretty thing was of course Daffy Braggart, an oh so pretty lady riding in a not too pretty train, her starkly angular face displaying worry in a pretty way. She was worried because beneath the sweet music of pumping train-parts bearing her along she could discern actual music humming somewhere. Music reminiscent of the works of Dick Holey - no, a genuine work by Dick Holey! But not one Daffy, for the life of her, could remember despite her own intimate familiarity with Dick Holey...
Where was it coming from? Daffy looked all around the musty train car, limpid-blue eyes finally settling on the old conductor making his rounds, humming the tune. "Hey you!" Daffy said.
The old conductor turned, startled. He grew even more nervous at the sight of the more unpredictable of the Braggart siblings, "Y-yes ma'am?"
"What's that Dick Holey concerto?"
"What you're humming," Daffy said, mildly annoyed that this peon would be humming a Dick Holey number without total knowledge of his catalogue. How could anyone enjoy music without knowing all the obscure trivia of the musician in question? "That's a Dick Holey concerto. Which one?"
"I-I'm afraid I don't know ma'am," the conductor stammered and quickly excused himself.
Well, that was disappointing. Daffy lit herself a cigarette in flagrant disregard of the many NO SMOKING signs on the train - hell, she owned the train so if anyone had a right to smoke it was her! She couldn't quite place that Holey number... She was certain he'd only written four and that they were all conveniently titled 1st through 4th - the possibility that it could be a Holey concerto she wasn't familiar with or something by someone completely different never occurred to her. Sucking long, luxurious drags on her fag she tried with all her cognitive might to recall where she had heard those musical strains before - bumpbumpbump-baaa... bumpbupbump-baaa... Could it possibly be an entirely new, super-secret Dick Holey Concerto? This was quite a conundrum. Daffy would need another cigarette...
As her mind wondered and her lungs blackened, Daffy suddenly realized the train had stopped and hadn't moved for sometime. She checked her watch - the train wasn't scheduled to stop anywhere at this time, what could be the hold up? Just out the window, she could see other passengers getting off, drifting forward to what looked like a red light on the track switch. A man in a Braggart Big Damn Rail shirt was with them, fiddling with the old phone box hanging from the post with the light. Even from her place in the car, Daffy could hear the man declare with agitation, "An hour!?"
Rising from her seat, Daffy strode all purpose-like out of the train car to confront these people. No one particularly paid attention as she approached - shows how much they know - and as she reached the man, she demanded, "What's the hold up?"
The man looked at her, tired and frustrated but keeping it contained with the discipline of a professional. "Don't really know, ma'am. We got a red light on the tunnel up ahead but I can't get a clear answer as to why." Holding up the receiver, "Tunnel plays merry-hell with our radio so I had to try and raise 'em on this."
"So why aren't we moving?" Daffy asked. "We're going to be late. This the Braggart Bombit, it's never late!"
The man tried to calm her. "I know ma'am but sometimes these things come up. There's no scheduled track maintenance so it's likely an emergency job in the tunnel or some other train was coming through and broke down." Indicating the switch, "It's single track up ahead. You always want to know exactly who is where when you move onto -"
"Nonsense!" declared Daffy. "I'm Daffy Braggart, I own this railroad and I know because I've memorized the schedule in my office that there are no other trains on this track right now so we'll proceed forward."
The man was highly annoyed but, seeing as this was his employer tried to explain the complexity of the situation calmly, "Miss Braggart, that's not the only possibility. Like I said, it could be emergency maintenance and with the comms blockage -"
"You're fired!" Daffy shouted.
"What!?" the man dropped the phone, shocked at the suddenness and general madness of it all. "But I'm the engineer!"
"It's okay, I can drive," Daffy said with radiant smugness.
The engineer stared at her dumbfounded. "You're out of your fucking mind..."
Turning about, Daffy proudly announced, "All aboard!" and aside to the engineer, "I always wanted to say that."
Those who'd been milling around outside got back onto the train, save for those who'd been close enough to hear Daffy's conversation with the engineer. A few ducked aboard briefly to grab their bags but quickly joined the rest in keeping a distance from this woman who had decided to play blind choo-choo.
Climbing back aboard herself, Daffy made for the engine with a fresh cigarette stuffed into her mouth. This would be just like that Christmas when she got a toy train! She was so excited, once she got to the engine she jammed the throttle forward without thinking twice - or even once.
The great Braggart Bombit thundered ahead at full speed, charging without fear into the dark tunnel. Of course, this allowed no time for the emergency maintenance crew to get out of the way but by a stroke of unnatural luck - for Daffy - they had finished the repairs, allowing the Bombit to sail on without anymore hindrance then the anguished cries and splatterings of the crew.
Air whistled happily all around the Bombit as it thundered reckless and bloody into its final station. It very well would have kept going if not for the frantic screaming and liberal use of "Motherfucker!" over the radio by the station operator convincing Daffy maybe she should slow down just a tad. Still, she didn't much care for the operator's shrill tone - unprofessional. She made a mental note to fire him later. Maybe give the job to that young go-getter Orrin Kegel...
She stepped out on to the platform, gliding past the many people shrieking in horror at the viscera-caked train. She ignored them with the help of Holey's Fifth - which she was now certain was the tune she'd heard earlier, some super-secret concerto Holey released only for the people who mattered - whistling it to herself. Off key with lots of wheezing.
How Daffy loved being home in the hub of Braggart Big Damn Rail! The slap of concrete beneath her stylish pumps, the tall offices thrusting into the yielding sky above her, the thick stink of train exhaust Tim had wanted to flush out of the terminal with great big fans - a pointless and wasteful expenditure Daffy had derailed with what she liked to think of as considerable personal effort on her part. Which had mostly been pestering her own lawyer to "Fix this!"
Making her way upstairs, she soon came to Tim's office where he waited along with the recently and inexplicably returned Edguy Dithers. We're not too clear on the timing here. Anyway, Daffy liked having Edguy present for these little business meetings so he could see how awesome she was.
As she settled into a chair, feet propped up on his desk, Tim was busying himself on the phone like the fussy old woman Daffy considered him to be -
"Yes, I under - No, no that won't be necessary... Yes, I'll look into it. Just keep a lid on this as long as you can. Goodbye." Tim hung up the phone with a sigh. "Well Daffy," he said, "I just finished the first stage of damage control on your latest stunt. Care to tell me why you drove a train yourself through a red light!?"
Not at all interested in such ancient history, Daffy launched right into, "The Rio Norte is crap! But don't worry, I have the perfect plan to fix it!"
Tim glowered at his sister, "Of course you do... Ed, would you kindly fetch my ulcer medicine?"
Unperturbed as always, Daffy continued, "First we'll need brand new rail. I've already ordered it from Rearend Metals."
"Ed, make that a gun with a single bullet." Addressing his sister, his frustration palpable, "Daffy, Rearend Metals is only producing one alloy anymore and nobody even knows what it's good for! It's certainly never been used for train tracks. And what about our regular supplier, Doyle? What about the Board? You can't just go gallivanting around making these decisions behind my back!"
"Rot the Board and rot Doyle," Daffy declared with petulent superiority. "The Board authorized us to buy new rail thirteen months ago - which I can do since Daddy explicitly declared us co-CEOs in his will - and Rearend is charging less than Doyle."
"And McDonald's charges less than a real restaurant," Tim countered. "But that doesn't make their meat better. This new thing from Rearend, it's a total unknown! It's never been used in anything! We don't know it's durability, it's flexibility - hell, even it's melting point -"
"I know," interrupted Daffy.
"Then please enlighten me regarding the specifics."
"Well I don't know all that," she clarified. "But Rearend has produced the most revolutionary metal on the market - so revolutionary everyone's scared to use it. When I see things I see, I see them. Remember I have that engineering degree."
"That Dad bought for you!" Tim was becoming exasperated with his sister. Hell, he'd been exasperated for quite some time. She always insisted on going by her own "Judgement," facts and empirical evidence be damned. If it weren't for those ridiculous stipulations in the will, Tim very likely would have had Daffy thrown out of the business years ago...
Not that he hated her though. On the contrary, he felt a deep affection and commitment to his sister even when she was at her worst - admittedly a frequent occurrence - and it just made these power struggles of theirs all the more painful. "Look, I'm not opposed to dealing with Rearend but I cannot and will not stake the future of this company on something that very well could be total snake-oil!"
Daffy scoffed at him, "You're always so timid. Lucky for us I cancelled the Doyle order and paid Rearend up front."
"Oh Jesus..." Tim muttered grabbing his head. It would take days to undo all the damage Daffy had caused to the Rio Norte deal - not to mention the continued fallout from the day's earlier stunt. maybe fortune would smile on them and this new Rearend alloy wouldn't crumple or shatter within the first five minutes of operation.
And maybe monkeys would fly out his ass...
Daffy, convinced of her own certain victory, left Tim there wincing. Dithers followed her like a stupidly loyal puppy, happily nattering about how bold and smart she was and how Tim would eventually come around.
"Yes yes, of course I'm always right," Daffy said to him dismissively.
"Oh, and Orrin Kegel from Transportation wants to see you," Dithers added quickly, nearly having forgotten that important detail in all his fawning.
"Excellent!" declared Daffy. "I wanted to see him too. But first I need to place a call to the Music Production Company."
"Uh... Which one?"
"THE Music Production company. Try to keep up, Edguy."
"Okay..." Dithers didn't quite know what she was on about but assumed she knew what she was doing. She was rich after all.
Arriving at her Daffy's office, Dithers left to go about his usual tasks while she Googled "The Music Production Company," instantly annoyed at the many who pretended to the title. This would be harder than she thought.
"Yes, could you tell me about Dick Holey's Fifth?"
"...This is a crank, isn't it?" And they promptly hung up.
Daffy tried several more - "Never heard of it," "I thought he only had four..." "That's just dirty!"
This went on and on. Daffy came to suspect all knowledge of Dick Holey had been scrubbed from the records - that's why she couldn't find any information on this fifth concerto she'd heard a random train conductor humming! It was the only logical explanation!
And then Kegel appeared at her door so we can rap this up.
"Orrin, good, there's been some -"
"I quit," Orrin Kegel said. He turned around and left without another word.
"What!? Did you get another job? Will you get another job? Is it for money? Health? Sex - because I can promise -" Daffy blathered frantically as the chapter mercifully ended.